Editorial | Ensure transparency for St Mary vote
Until Winston Green's sudden death last month, the pending by-elections to fill two vacant seats in Jamaica's House of Representatives were trending towards a run-of-the-mill, even boring affair.
The fact is that the constituencies of South West St Andrew and South St Andrew, from which, respectively, Portia Simpson Miller and Omar Davies resigned, are safe ones for the opposition People's National Party's (PNP). In the February 2016 general election, Mrs Simpson Miller gained 92 per cent of the votes cast in the riding she represented for 40 years, while in his, 87 per cent of the ballots were marked for Dr Davies.
Indeed, these are among Jamaica's so-called garrison-style constituencies, zones of political exclusion, where the other side usually doesn't even bother to campaign, and when it does, makes a cursory and almost pantomime show of it. In the circumstance, you can expect Mrs Simpson Miller's and Dr Davies' successors, Angela Brown Burke and Mark Golding, respectively, to be shoo-ins when the by-elections are held in those constituencies.
The same can't be said for St Mary South Eastern, for which Dr Green was the member of parliament (MP), representing the PNP. In the 2016 general election, Dr Green eked out a five-vote victory over the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Norman Dunn, the win confirmed only after a tense magisterial recount of ballots in which Dr Green lost two votes from the initial return. Dr Dunn will again be the JLP's standard-bearer when the by-election is called. He will face another medical doctor, Shane Alexis, a newcomer to politics but well known as a medical activist and former president of the Medical Doctors Association of Jamaica.
The contest will be important to both parties, especially so for the governing JLP, which has a one-seat majority in Jamaica's 63-member parliament. So, a victory for them would not only give the government legislative cushion and stability, but provide Prime Minister Andrew Holness with additional insulation against potentially recalcitrant MPs who might wish to use the government's thin margin to hold him to ransom.
The JLP, as well as Mr Holness and his government, are likely to be inclined to throw everything at the vote in St Mary South East, including state resources. It is a temptation over which this newspaper, if not with good cause, is concerned.
We fear a repeat of the J$600 million verge and drain-cleaning and road-repair project that the Holness administration rolled out on the eve of last November's municipal elections, in which the Cabinet bypassed established procurement rules to decide on the companies to receive contracts and in what regions. The Opposition argued that the decisions on which communities required attention and who should be employed were taken on a partisan basis to influence votes in favour of the JLP.
An investigation by the Office of the Contractor General could not declare definitively on those allegations. In its report, it raised concerns about the direct involvement of five Cabinet ministers in either instructing or suggesting who should be subcontractors on the projects.
Indeed, the contractor general, Dirk Harrison, warned that how that arrangement was handled "has the potential to result in political corruption", including the use of public funds "to finance political agendas". The government has not, up to now, satisfactorily responded to that report, despite the promise that the matter would be addressed in Parliament by Prime Minister Holness.
Mr Holness should, as a matter of urgency, speak on the issue as well as use the opportunity to pledge that his administration will not repeat the missteps of which Mr Harrison complained, as well as offer a mechanism for transparency and for holding his administration to account.